Disney Parks may be synonymous with Dole Whips and happily ever afters, but did you know it's also home to a fictional secret society? It's called S.E.A (pronounced as an acronym, not as the synonym for ocean) and if you've visited any Disney park around the globe, you've likely taken part in it just by riding an attraction or sipping a cocktail.
What is S.E.A.?
The Society of Explorers and Adventurers, the brainchild of Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), takes storytelling in an entirely new direction with a group of fictional characters far from the likes of Goofy and Mickey Mouse. The characters, from an artifact thief to a celebrated sea captain, tie into Disney Parks across the globe, including attractions and restaurants, and serve as a means to provide backstory for some attractions and canonically link some intellectual properties. In short, S.E.A. isn't an attraction, but a connector.
The long-running mythology of S.E.A. goes back to a real (and now defunct) lounge at Walt Disney World, The Adventurers Club. The popular nightspot was located at Pleasure Island, an entertainment district located where Disney Springs now lies. The club was fictionally founded by S.E.A. member Merriweather Adam Pleasure, making it the society's first-ever appearance on Disney properties in 1989.
S.E.A. has since evolved, with new characters and hints to the society's members spread across every inch of Disney's properties, including Disney resort hotels and Disney Cruise Line.
At D23 Expo, a Disney fan convention held annually in Anaheim, Calif., WDI hosted a panel exclusively dedicated to the secret society. In addition to announcing an upcoming television series based on S.E.A. for Disney+, its creative leads dug deep into the history of the secret society and what the future may hold.
Much of the overall theme of S.E.A. relates to Walt Disney's fascination with exploration, discovery and education. "The notion is they're out trying to figure out things, trying to gain knowledge, trying to understand the world better ... and live to tell the tale," shares Mark LaVine, an executive who works in story development at WDI. "Because if you go on these great adventures and you don't survive, that's kind of a sad story."
The goal of the faux organization is to collect and preserve artistic and cultural artifacts from their adventures — with many of these props hidden in plain sight for guests to spot.
The utter fascination has garnered an entire fanbase that's now sprung into merchandise and even a book series. Some characters are inspired by famous Imagineers, like Joe Rohde who spearheaded Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Because of the immense possibilities of storytelling, it's a way for Disney Imagineers to freely flex their creative muscles in a way like never before.
Who's part of S.E.A.?
The group's carefully-crafted (and spirited) members are scientists, researchers, artists, explorers and adventurers from around the globe. These fictional characters are linked to popular Disney franchises, like Indiana Jones and Jungle Cruise. With an adventurous flair akin to the exploration days of yesteryear, many of their storylines take place in the early to mid 20th century.
"S.E.A. is truly global and we're excited about where we can take these stories," shares Kiran Jeffery, vice president of content and partnership planning at WDI. "There are so many more places to explore, characters to meet — and we're really just getting started."
You won't find these members at traditional in-park character meet-and-greets, but they do play key roles in the storytelling of your favorite attractions.
There's Barnabas T. Bullion, linked to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The American businessman hails from a mining family and eventually became owner and president of the Big Thunder Mining Company.
Dr. Albert Falls is an English explorer and scientist known for his ability to navigate a remote body of water. He's largely associated with Jungle Cruise and credited with discovering the "backside of water" and founding the Jungle Navigation Company, a shipping company. His granddaughter, Alberta Falls, is now a key fixture of S.E.A, at Magic Kingdom Park.
Captain Mary Oceaneer, a celebrated sea captain, is linked to Disney Cruise Line's Oceaneer Club and Lab and serves as the focus of the Miss Adventure Falls raft ride at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park.
Harrison Hightower III, based on former Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, is a corrupt member of S.E.A. who has stolen numerous artifacts. His story is the basis of Tokyo Disneyland's version of Tower of Terror.
Lord Henry Mystic, an English aristocrat, is prominent at Hong Kong Disneyland and the basis of the attraction Mystic Manor — its version of Haunted Mansion.
Camellia Falco, the first woman inducted into the society, serves as the star of Tokyo DisneySea's version of Soarin' — Soaring: Fantastic Flight.
Where can you spot nods to S.E.A.?
Easter eggs acknowledging the existence of S.E.A. can be found at Disney theme parks and resorts across the globe — if you know where to find them. "There are so many that even our fans find ones even I didn't know existed," says Juleen Woods, a project coordinator at WDI. "That's the fun part. We can keep adding them to our parks and keep building the story."
"We're constantly adding elements into our stories and attractions," adds Kiran Jeffery, WDI's vice president of content and partnership planning. "There's a backstory to everything. We don't just randomly put things in the park. We're always thinking How does this connect to every character?"
The first large-scale introduction of S.E.A. into Disney parks was the Fortress Explorations attraction at Tokyo DisneySea. This massive complex, which serves as the society's headquarters, houses many walk-through interactive exhibits and three restaurants based on the characters.
While its presence can be felt around the world, S.E.A. has strong ties to Disney parks in the U.S.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland's Jungle Cruise doubles as a cargo shipping spot for other S.E.A. members: You can spot the society's logo imprinted on wooden crates in the queue. Disney World's Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen restaurant was started by Alberta Falls, the granddaughter of S.E.A. member Albert Falls. Its waiting room is full of photos of the two and there's even a hidden secret S.E.A. member's room in the back of the restaurant. Here, you can spot a large crest of the organization and fez hats emblazoned with the logo.
Disneyland's Tropical Hideaway is a quick service spot that serves Dole Whips and features a wall of expedition paddles from both well-known and lesser-known members. At the neighboring Disneyland Hotel, numerous artifacts linked to S.E.A. adorn the walls at Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, including a bronze bust of Dr. Albert Falls.
Disney World's Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar, located at Disney Springs, is an airplane hanger-themed bar founded by society member Jock Lindsey, aviator to Indiana Jones. At Disney's BoardWalk, you can spot a S.E.A. member fez amongst the magician props at AbracadaBar. A portrait of Barnabas T. Bullion can be spotted in the queue of both Disney World and Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
What does the future hold for S.E.A.?
The organization offers limitless potential for Imagineers as they explore ways to incorporate it into attractions and theme parks. "We've been so excited about S.E.A. and what we can do with it," shares Lavine. "Several years ago, we went back to the writers room at Imagineering and really started to focus on expanding this world out."
A current focus is incorporating more female and diverse characters: This includes the addition of Camellia Falco and a Japanese entomologist. Dr. Kon Chunosuke. "S.E.A. is inclusive and it's about representation," Jeffery states. "This needs to be about everybody."
Above all, though, it's about fun — and Disney Parks' most loyal fans can't get enough of it.